Books Archive

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Books, A Year in Review - 2011, Part I

Old Book Bindings, from Wikimedia CommonsWell, another 12 months has passed, so it's time once again for me to look at my yearly reading habits. I've been doing this for a while, now (see previous reviews for 2007, 2008, 2009, and 2010). It all started with an article about an AP-Ipsos poll on people's reading habits. Among other things, it pointed out that around 1 in 4 adults in this country hadn't read any books at all in the previous year, and that among those that had, the average number of books read was 6. (Yes, this is the third time I've copied that sentence verbatim).

Like in the past three years, I'm breaking this up into two entries. In the first, I'll reflect on my reading habits (which means it probably won't interest many people), and in the second, I'll give a brief review of each book.

So, here are all the books I read in the last year, sorted by topic instead of by the order in which I read them.

Children's & Young Adult Fiction

  1. Balook
  2. Through the Looking Glass
  3. Dragon's Keep
  4. The Fire Within
  5. Ice Fire
  6. Killing Mr. Griffin

Adult Fiction

  1. 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea
  2. A Christmas Carol
  3. Left Behind
  4. The Color of Magic
  5. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn
  6. Frankenstein
  7. All My Friends Are Dead


  1. The End of Biblical Studies
  2. More Than a Carpenter
  3. Thousands, Not Billions
  4. Leaving Christianity


  1. What Do You Care What Other People Think
  2. Why Evolution Is True
  3. Two Years Before the Mast
  4. Soul Made Flesh
  5. Castle
  6. Bad Astronomy
  7. The Meaning of Tingo (Not completed)

So, that's 24 books altogether - similar to what I've read the past three years. Though two of those books were pretty short (one especially so), a third I never actually finished reading, and a fourth I wrote myself.

Four of the six kids' books I read this year were recommended to me by my daughter. I suppose that as she gets older, I'll read fewer kids' books, but I suspect that I'll never quit reading them entirely.

One of those adult fiction books was very short, All My Friends Are Dead. It only takes about 15 minutes to read cover to cover. But I've read it enough times myself, and passed it to enough friends, that it was definitely worth the price.

Technically, I read four books on religion, but one of those I wrote myself (Leaving Christianity). Two of them were actually pro-Christianity. Though I must say, I didn't find either of those very convincing. Last year, I lumped religious and non-fiction books together. But with as fanciful as More Than a Carpenter and Thousands, Not Billions were, I didn't think they deserved the distinction of non-fiction.

I only read one book on evolution this year, but it's one I've been wanting to read for a while, Why Evolution Is True. I'm glad I did, as it's one of my favorite books I've read on evolution, yet. There's still one more book on evolution that I've been mentioning on my wishlist for years now, Endless Forms Most Beautiful: The New Science of Evo Devo and the Making of the Animal Kingdom). Maybe next year.

I couldn't go a year without reading something by Carl Zimmer. This year it was Soul Made Flesh. In fact, it was an autographed copy.

I knocked out one more book from this list (Frankenstein), which only leaves 88 left to go.

I suppose this makes a good place to mention that my wife bought me a Kindle for Christmas last year, so quite a few of those books were read off of electrons instead of dead trees. I've gotta say, I really like the Kindle in many ways. The form factor is great. It can hold an entire library. I can get all the classics for completely free. The battery lasts forever. I can buy new books from practically anywhere. Actually, there are only a few reasons I still buy paper books (though not insignificant reasons). Used paper books are often cheaper than their Kindle counterparts (and sometimes even brand new books). Picture laden books, especially color graphics, still look better on the printed page. And if it's a book I know I'm likely to loan somebody, it's still a whole lot easier to just hand it to them than go through all the rigamarole associated with Kindle book sharing. So, I foresee a mix of paper and electronic books for me for many years into the future, but I'm glad I have the Kindle.

All in all, I think my reading was pretty balanced again this year, but I could probably still add a little more history and philosophy in there.

Stay tuned for Part II, where I'll post my reviews for each book.

Update 2011-11-21 - Part II is now online.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Book Sale

Update - The sale has been extended until September 26th.

Want to buy the best book ever written*, but $4.99 is just too much? You're in luck. Lulu is running a 15% off sale. Unfortunately, the 15% off doesn't cover shipping or taxes.

LuLu coupon

Here's the small print:

Enter coupon code OKTOBERFEST305 at checkout and receive 15% off your order. The maximum savings for this offer is $200. Sorry, but this offer is only valid in US Dollars and cannot be applied to previous orders. You can only use this code once per account, and unfortunately you can't use this coupon in combination with other coupon codes. This great offer expires on September 23, 2011 at 11:59 PM, so don't miss out! While very unlikely, we do reserve the right to change or revoke this offer at anytime, and of course we cannot offer this coupon where it is against the law to do so. This coupon is good for self-purchases (i.e., Authors buying their own books) and/or it can be shared with Readers and Buyers. Lulu incurs the cost of this discount, so it does not impact the Author's proceeds of the book. This coupon will work for multiple titles but savings cannot go past the maximum of $200. Finally, this coupon does not pertain to shipping costs or taxes.

*Of course, that's a link to my own book, Leaving Christianity. And no, I don't really think it's the best book ever written, but I do think it's worth the time it takes to read. And if $4.99 minus 15% is still too steep, you can read all the essays for free online. Or, you could use that coupon to go buy anything else you want from Lulu. I know I'm tempted to buy The Digital Cuttlefish: Omnibus, a collection of poems by The Digital Cuttlefish

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Book Review - All My Friends Are Dead

I just recently bought* a rather silly book that I happen to like quite a bit, All My Friends Are Dead. It's described as "either the saddest funny book or the funniest sad book you'll ever read." At only 96 pages long, with only a handful of words per page, it can be read cover to cover in less than a quarter of an hour. It's pretty funny, in an off beat way. I've handed it to nearly everyone who's come to the house since I bought it, and so far everyone's laughed out loud while reading it (not necessarily at every joke, but at quite a few). If you want a taste for what's inside, the book's website shares a few of the pages:

Official Website for All My Frieds are Dead

I definitely recommend this book.

* On a trip to the mall with my daughter's girl scout troop, I didn't feel like sticking around Claire's with the girls, so I walked to the store across from it, Spencers, and took a quick look through the books (don't worry - my wife stayed with the girls). I was originally looking to see if they had any Chuck Norris books as a gift to a friend who likes those jokes, when I saw All My Friends Are Dead. I read it completely there in the store, but wasn't sure if I wanted to pay $10 for such a short book, so I put it back, and figured it was about time to catch back up with the troop. Well, the jokes stuck with me, so the next time I was at the mall, I decided to actually buy it. As described above, I've been able to share it with quite a few people, so I think it was worth it.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Book Review - More Than a Carpenter

Not too long ago, a friend of mine was in a place of business that had a waiting room (for anonymity, I'm leaving out details of the exact type of business). Among the reading material, he noticed a book titled More Than a Carpenter

If you don't want to read the whole review, I'll summarize. The book was bad. Practically every chapter relied on the Gospels being more or less reliable accounts, and then went off defending Jesus's divinity from there. As I've said plenty of times, if non-believers accepted that the Bible was true, we'd already be Christians. But we don't, so citing scripture as proof is nearly pointless. It would be like trying to prove Mormonism by quoting the Book of Mormon, or Buddhism by quoting the Buddhavacana. McDowell only spent one chapter (Chapter 6) trying to make a case for the Gospels being reliable, and didn't really succeed. And without that base, the rest of his book just falls flat.

Continue reading "Book Review - More Than a Carpenter" »

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Book Review - Why Evolution Is True

I've just finished reading Jerry Coyne's book, Why Evolution Is True. This is one of my new favorites for introducing evolution to people who don't currently understand or accept it. It contains a great balance of theory and evidence, or in other words, explaining how evolution works, as well as showing the evidence of how we know that.

The book covered a wide range of topics, and did it well while keeping the book to a manageable length. It started with an explanation of what evolution actually is. This was a pretty important chapter, given how much many people misunderstand evolution. He then moved on to fossil evidence for evolution, followed by discussion of vestigial organs, embryological evidence, evidence from poor 'design', and biogeographical evidence. Following all that was a discussion of natural selection and sexual selection, and then a discussion of speciation. The penultimate chapter focused on recent human evolution (recent as in after the chimp & bonobo lineage diverged from ours). Finally was a chapter to wrap it all up, which also discussed what some people believe to be implications of evolution (i.e. if it says we're just animals, why not act like animals). Of course, by covering such a broad range of topics, Coyne couldn't delve too deeply into any single one, but I think it was very good for an introductory book.

Why Evolution Is True was written not just to explain evolution, but also as a counter to creationism. In many places, he pointed out why evolution was a more reasonable explanation to certain pieces of evidence than creationism. When I read Richard Dawkins' book, The Greatest Show on Earth, I'd mentioned that he hammered too hard on creationists, and that it was a bit of a distraction. In contrast, Coyne seemed to spend just enough time discussing creationism without it becoming too distracting from the far more interesting story of evolution itself.

Coyne was also very balanced in his discussions of controversial areas, or areas where the evidence isn't conclusive. For example, in the discussion of sexual selection, he mentioned both the good genes hypothesis and the perceptual bias hypothesis, as well as studies that provided evidence for both.

In short, this book is a great introduction to people who don't understand evolution. Donald Prothero's Evolution: What the Fossils Say and Why It Matters may have a more detailed discussion of the fossil evidence, and Carl Zimmer's The Tangled Bank may have a more detailed discussion of the mechanisms, but Coyne's book has just the right balance of theory and evidence, especially evidence from a broad range of disciplines.

For a great review from Amazon, go here.

Updated 2011-11-02 Fixed link to Zimmer's The Tangled Bank.


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